St. Petersburg's tight mayor's race needs a new focus for the general election. Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker should spend the next two months looking forward rather than backward, and they should concentrate on key issues that could redefine the city. If Kriseman keeps up his partisan attacks and Baker keeps reviewing the sewage mess, voters will tune out and this will be a dispiriting rather than inspiring campaign.
A few trends are clear from Tuesday's virtual deadlock. Baker won more support in black neighborhoods as a Republican than the incumbent Democrat. President Barack Obama's late endorsement of Kriseman apparently had little impact, and Kriseman's recent announcement of a restaurant coming to the historic Manhattan Casino in Midtown may have backfired with some black voters.
Second, Baker emphasized his record during his two terms as mayor from 2001 to 2010. Black voters remember how he led efforts to bring a grocery store, health clinic, credit union and community college campus to Midtown. Other voters recalled Baker's efforts to improve schools in the city, or how downtown's resurgence kicked into gear while he was in office.
Third, Kriseman closed the gap before the primary election but has yet to convince enough voters that his record makes him deserving of a second term. His mishandling of the crisis that resulted in nearly 200 million gallons of sewage being dumped into Tampa Bay has not been forgotten. His effort to wrap President Donald Trump around Baker's neck and make a nonpartisan race so partisan is cynical and flat wrong. It may have helped prevent Baker from winning the election outright with more than half of the vote Tuesday, but that should not be enough to elect Kriseman to a second term. St. Petersburg voters know Baker, and they know Baker is no Trump.
This race is now a toss-up, and it needs a reset. Here are three areas ripe for the candidates to focus on over the next two months:
Kids. Baker and Kriseman should discuss in detail how they would help St. Petersburg's still-struggling schools with more vigorous support that includes scholarships, business partnerships and mentors. Auto theft by teens remains an issue, and a St. Petersburg teen who was the most arrested car thief in the county was sentenced this week to 20 months in prison. The candidates should address how they will reduce car thefts and how they will reach these kids and give them hope for a better life.
Tropicana Field site. It is apparent that a new baseball stadium is not likely to be built on this land for the Tampa Bay Rays, who are more likely to prefer a new stadium in Tampa. That offers even greater opportunities to be innovative in the approach to redeveloping the Trop's 85 acres. The candidates should flesh out their ideas and explain to voters why they are best qualified to oversee a project that would transform the city.
Midtown. The city's poor, predominantly black neighborhoods have been left behind and have not benefited from downtown's revival. Affordable housing, access to jobs and crime all remain particular challenges in these neighborhoods. Rather than focus on their records, Baker and Kriseman should describe in more detail what they plan to do over the next four years to help families trapped in generational poverty.